‘We expect widespread abuse’ of religious exemption, says UC law professor about COVID vax mandates

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It’s tough for employers to determine whether someone has a “sincerely held religious belief” — or if they’re using the religious exemption as cover for a fear about vaccine safety or for political reasons. That’s according to Dorit Reiss, a professor at the UC Hastings College of Law, where she studies vaccines and the law. Photo by Shutterstock.

Vaccine mandates for employees are popping up at companies, universities, and government offices across California. Employees can opt out for medical reasons or “sincerely held religious beliefs,” also known as religious exemptions

This is opening up some arguably unethical behavior, according to Dorit Reiss, a professor at the UC Hastings College of Law, where she studies vaccines and the law.

Reiss says it’s very hard for employers to determine whether someone has a “sincerely held religious belief” — or if they’re using the religious exemption as cover for a fear about vaccine safety or for political reasons.

“Anti-vaccine activists hold workshops on how do you write religious exemptions that will be accepted, complete with suggesting biblical verses that people can use,” she says.

There are attorneys, she adds, who are willing to help those people submit religious exemptions, even if untrue.

“We expect widespread abuse,” she says. “Not only does the religious exemption encourage people to lie about why they're opposing the vaccine, painting it as religion instead of the safety concern, but it rewards more sophisticated liars, those that know where to turn for help.”

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